By the time they had flown a few miles, it was clear that the dark form from Vindolanda was following them, and gaining rapidly. Quickly the companions conferred, and Storm guided Bisath Sihr ad Sultan up into the clouds. Suddenly they were surrounded by white mist on all sides, so thick Storm could barely see his scaled hand in front of his face. He managed to control their flight but, disoriented, they soon plunged back out of the clouds.
Flying just beneath the clouds, Tector looked back and saw that their pursuer has closed the distance. Squinting, he could make out the shadowy form of a midnight black pegasus, a rider on its back. The group realised that they had encountered this pair in the past, during the fall of Vindolanda.
Seeking to outrun the pursuit, Storm concentrated on his connection with the enchanted carpet, focusing his sorcerous power to enhance its speed. He was by no means an expert in such matters, having only established his bond with the artefact a few hours earlier, and his attempt was unsuccessful.
Looking back, the companions saw the Nightmare Wraith closing quickly, its wings moving with supernatural speed. Desperate to avoid the necromancy of its rider, Callus, Tector suggested that Sophia try as well. She projected her mind successfully into Storm’s, merging their power, and they focused together on urging the carpet to greater speed. Unfortunately, even with their wills combined, they barely increased the pace.
Realising they would soon be caught, Storm timed his sorcery to perfection, unleashing a lightning orb just as the Nightmare Wraith came within range. It struck a foreleg, sending electricity sparking up the leg, and the Nightmare tossed its head in pain.
Closing the distance, but still too far away to reach them with one of his deadly shrunken skulls, Callus raised his staff and gestured at Storm. A skull-shaped ball of writhing energy, pulsing with inky black and sickly green, streaked out toward him. Tector bravely tried to stand in its way, but it was past before he could position himself and struck Storm, seeming to dissolve into his body. He felt death magic and poison coursing through his veins almost immediately and doubled over with nausea.
The Dragonknight, seeing Storm close to being overcome, reached out and, with a prayer, healed his friend. Sophia snapped off an arrow at their pursuer, but the Nightmare was incredibly agile in the air and banked away easily.
Recovering himself thanks to Tector’s healing, Storm saw the Nightmare closing in and conjured a whirlwind right in its path. Despite its agility, it was impossible to avoid the maelstrom. The whirling wind span the Nightmare about, and Callus was flung from its back, clinging desperately to the reins. The corded muscles in his arm did not fail, but Storm’s magic was too powerful, and the reins snapped under the force of the wind. The necromancer’s momentum flung him, spinning, away from his mount and he plummeted toward the ground hundreds of feet below.
The carpet sped on, Tector loosing a bolt from his crossbow and Sophia firing an arrow as the Nightmare flew free of the dissipating tornado, while Storm hurled a lightning orb. The undead mount was supernaturally quick, flicking its wings and banking aside to avoid all their attacks. Seemingly unperturbed by the loss of its rider, the wraith-steed ascended, dodging another crossbow bolt from Tector and closing the gap, preparing to swoop down upon them.
Looking up, Sophia focused her mind, seeking to send the Nightmare fleeing in fear, as she had at Vindolanda a few weeks earlier. This time though her enchantment had no effect, and it swooped down upon them. Storm loosed a lightning orb which slammed into its chest, sparks crackling up its neck, and then it was on them, hammering both its hooves into Tector’s chest and almost knocking him backwards off the carpet.
Steadying himself, the big warrior swung his greataxe as the momentum of the undead pegasus took it past him, slashing a shallow cut in its side. Catching his breath, and feeling his bruised ribs beneath his armor, he invoked the regenerative power of his brooch. Sophia, tracking its flight, loosed another arrow, barely missing Storm who felt its wind pass the side of his head before it went wide of its target.
The Nightmare banked, and was struck in the side by another of Storm’s lightning orbs, before swooping in again, taking revenge on the sorcerer with a vicious hoof to the side of his head. He fell sideways, onto the carpet, and de la Croix grabbed him. Both Tector and Sophia let fly as the Nightmare passed, but its speed made it almost impossible to hit.
Still stunned from the blow to his head, Storm could barely sit up, let alone focus his sorcery, and was unable to attack as the Nightmare banked again and swooped in on Sophia, smashing her in the face with one hoof and in the arm with another. Tector swung his greataxe as it passed, but failed to connect, while Sophia, blood from her headwound getting in her eyes, sent another arrow wide.
The Nightmare banked aside to avoid another lightning orb from Storm and an arrow from Sophia before swooping in again. Tector stood, protecting Sophia and de la Croix, and the undead mount hammered him with its hooves as his axe blow went wide of its ribs.
As it turned for another assault, Storm finally connected with another lightning orb, this time with devastating accuracy. [20!] It struck the Nightmare in the side of the head, sparks flying in all directions, and it wheeled to the side. Wings going limp, it fell end over end to the ground far below. The companions did not stop to see it strike the firmament, flying on and away as de la Croix breathed a brief thanks to God for their deliverance.
“My friends, you have saved my life twice now. God bless you!” he rasped, looking at each in turn.
Bisath Sihr ad Sultan made short work of the distance, and they soon passed Durham, taking care to skirt well clear of the undead horde making its way south. Arriving back in York mere hours later, Storm landed them on the roof of the keep as guards ran to take word below. Two Templars rushed forward as Tector helped de la Croix to his feet, and the senior Templar grasped his hand in thanks before being helped away by his brethren.
Waiting on the roof, the companions noticed that the King’s army was striking camp, before de Glanvill and his servants arrived. Striding over, the Chief Justiciar frowned as he noticed a slight scorch mark on one edge of the carpet.
“Had a problem?” he asked.
“Yes, my Lord,” muttered Storm.
“Go on,” demanded the old man.
Storm gave an account of their quest, and de Glanvill gave him a thin smile that reached his eyes nevertheless.
“You have done well,” he said. “I have kept my word to the Templars, and this will give a great boost to the morale of our army before we march tomorrow.”
At that moment, Baron Henry emerged from the stairway, walking quickly across to embrace his daughter.
“Welcome back,” he smiled, then looked at her again, noticing her injuries. “You are wounded!”
“I’m fine, father,” she replied.
The Baron glanced around. “You are all bearing wounds,” he said. “Come, you will be tended by my personal physician. I will have hot baths drawn for each of you, and then we will hold a feast in your honour. We march for Durham at dawn!”